Nakata began his professional career in 1995 and won the Asian Football Confederation Player of the Year award in 1997 and 1998, the Scudetto with A.S. Roma in 2001, played for Japan in three FIFA World Cup tournaments (1998, 2002 and 2006) and played in the Olympics twice (1996 and 2000). In 2005, he was made the Knight of the Star of Italian Solidarity, one of the Italy's highest honours, for improving the country's image overseas. Nakata is known as a fashion icon, regularly attending runway shows and wearing designer fashion.
Pelé named Nakata in his 125 Top Living Footballers in March 2004.
He made his senior national team debut in May 1997 against South Korea and was a key member of the Japanese side that qualified for the 1998 FIFA World Cup, setting up all three Japanese goals in the qualification play-off against Iran. After the World Cup in France, he moved to Perugia in Italy's Serie A.
In January 2000, after one and a half seasons at Perugia, Nakata moved to Roma for £15 Million, whom he helped to win the scudetto. The highlight of Nakata's career at Roma came on May 6, 2001 in the Serie A match against Juventus F.C. at Stadio Delle Alpi. After replacing Francesco Totti in the second half with Roma trailing 0-2, Nakata netted with a 30-yard screamer beyond Juventus goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar's reach. Nakata then set up another goal when his fierce drive from outside the box was parried into the path of Vincenzo Montella, who duly equalised for Roma. The match ended with a 2-2 draw and Roma maintained a six-point margin atop the league table.
He also helped Japan reach the final of the 2001 Confederations Cup that season, but left the national team before the final to join Roma for their final league matches. In the summer of 2001, he joined Parma for £18.5 million, where he played for two and a half seasons.
In January 2004, Nakata joined Bologna where he played the remainder of the 2003/04 season before moving to Fiorentina, where he played the following season. In August 2005, Nakata moved to Premiership side Bolton Wanderers on loan.
At the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Nakata played in all three matches for Japan, losing to Australia and Brazil, and drawing with Croatia. His performance against Croatia earned him a Man of the Match award.
On July 3, 2006, Nakata announced his retirement from professional football and the Japanese national team on his personal website "I decided half a year ago that I would retire from the world of professional football... after the World Cup in Germany." Nakata wrote, "I will never again stand on the pitch as a professional player. But I will never give up football." On June 9, 2007, he made an appearance for the first time in public after his retirement on the pitch again when he played for Luís Figo's charity match. On June 2nd 2008, it was reported that the Manchester City owner was trying to get Nakata out of retirement to join the club.
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